May 4, 2014
Junior linebacker Cassanova McKinzy says he expects a breakout season in 2014 (USA Today photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – As a sophomore last season, linebacker Cassanova McKinzy started every game and led the team with 75 tackles as Auburn won 12 games and the Southeastern Conference championship.
Don’t tell McKinzy it was a breakout season. That, he says, is still to come.
“I don’t feel like that was the breakout year,” said McKinzy, 6-foot-3 and 249 pounds. “That was the learning year for me. That was my first time being a starter the whole season. That’s a big jump. I feel like my junior year is going to be the breakout year.”
And McKinzy says he’s not talking only about himself.
“I feel like we are a much better team than we were last year at this time,” McKinzy said. “That’s kind of scary, because we did all that after going through last spring just trying to learn. I feel like we have more confidence. It’s scary how good we are going to be.”
After backing up Jake Holland at middle linebacker as a true freshman, McKinzy moved to weakside linebacker last season. In spring practice, he was back in the middle. Junior Kris Frost, 6-foot-2 and 234 pounds, moved to the outside.
“I like playing Mike because I like being in control and making the calls,” McKinzy said. “At Will, you just have to line up and make plays. But it really doesn’t matter to me as long as I’m on the field helping my team.”
Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, who coaches the linebackers, expected to go into last season with McKinzy at Mike and Frost at Will. But events changed his plans, and Frost spent last season as Holland’s backup.
“This is the way I thought I would have it from the beginning, but Jake missed a lot of spring practice last year because of a class conflict,” Johnson said. “I was going to bring Cassanova along behind him. With Jake not out there as much, I thought Kris was the best from what I saw on the previous year's tape.”
Johnson says he plans to go into preseason practice with McKinzy the starter in the middle and Frost outside. But they’ll be interchangeable.
“I thought they established themselves,” Johnson said. “Kris had an excellent spring. Cassanova had a really good spring but was hampered by missing time with that bruised bone. I have a lot of confidence in those two.”
McKinzy says he expects he and Frost, who was in on 59 tackles last season, to be among the top linebacker duos in the SEC and beyond.
“We played together a lot of times last year, and we were pretty good,” McKinzy said. “When I mess up, he’ll back me up and when he messes up, I’ll back him up. We know what to expect from each other.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: